Cathedral Mansions Center was built between 1923 and 1924 as the central building of a larger apartment complex built by Harry Wardman. In 1925, some of its residences along Connecticut Avenue were rezoned for commercial use. Today, the Center building is known simply as the Cathedral Mansions and its businesses along Connecticut Avenue are popular among visitors to the National Zoo.
Cathedral Mansions Center sits between its sister
buildings to the North and South. It was the last of the Cathedral Mansions
buildings constructed, completed in 1924 for $1.25 million, and has a uniform
and simple design. It continues to operate as an apartment building and is the
only one of the original Cathedral Mansions buildings to include a commercial
area, established in 1925. These shops have changed over time but their
popularity has remained steadfast. Cathedral Mansions Center is an important
feature of the local landscape.
Passersby may easily miss the entirety of the building
while preoccupied by the shops and National Zoo across the street. Cathedral
Mansions Center is a U-shaped structure with several projections; before
becoming a commercial area, the ends of the “U” were connected by an arch held
up by columnns. This five-story brick structure incorporates limestone details
and a stucco finish on the fifth-floor exterior. The building’s inner courtyard
includes a beautifully landscaped garden for its residents. Cathedral Mansions
Center was originally called the Jewett Mansions, named for the old road that is
now the entrance to the National Zoo.
When Cathedral Mansions Center was completed in 1924, it
put the finishing touches on a project managed by developer Harry Wardman. Born
in 1872 in England, Wardman began his career in the United States as a
carpenter who built individual houses. He established a contracting business in
1899, and quickly began constructing larger apartment buildings and rowhouses. Wardman
proved himself to be a flexible and creative entrepreneur with Cathedral
Mansions, designing them in light of D.C.’s new zoning laws established in 1920.
He situated this expansive project in what was then a suburban part of the city,
one in which new houses and businesses were being built while natural
landscapes were preserved in the nearby Rock Creek Park. The National
Zoological Park, opened in 1891, also drew a number of visitors to the area.
Cathedral Mansions Center was sold in 1964 to real estate
developer Norman Bernstein, whose company still owns the building today. The
apartments and its commercial storefronts were renovated and some of the
apartments were turned into office spaces.